What's the most common home-buying mistake? If you're reading this from a cramped living room, or while lying in your itty-bitty "master" bedroom, you probably know the answer: buying a too-small home.
The mistake is so common that I—a seasoned real estate writer!—made it, too. And plenty more otherwise-smart homeowners are realizing their starter home might be their forever home and wishing they had sprung for a few more bedrooms.
"All too often, this mistake is made by first-time home buyers upgrading from an apartment rental," says Mark Cianciulli, co-founder of The CREM Group.
But soon enough, the buyers realize their mistake—just like we did. Our cozy two-bedroom suited us fine until we began floating the idea of having kids. Panic quickly gripped us: As two work-from-home adults with three animals and regular visitors (thanks, out-of-state fam!), we didn't even know where we'd put them.
Suddenly, calling our home "cozy" seemed like a euphemism for something far more sinister.
Fellow small-home buyers, don't give up hope: Making your adorable abode work long-term isn't an impossible task. Here's how to make your cramped space function for you.
1. Add on to your home
If you adore the neighborhood, adding space to your existing home can turn a cramped cottage into a lifelong home. Check local restrictions first, then consider whether you could double your square footage with a second story, or transform an unused part of the backyard into a master suite.
This is the easiest way to make a tiny house suit your family's growing needs. But keep your budget in mind.
"This can be an expensive undertaking," Cianciulli says. "You're essentially building a new portion to the home."
2. Inside, think vertical
You're not interested in selling, and you definitely don't have the budget to add on. No sweat! Think up. Find a talented carpenter and get yourself some serious built-ins—complete with hidden helpers.
"It's relatively easy to complement built-ins with clever, space-saving furniture that not only looks great, but serves many purposes," says Andrew Hillman, a broker at Hillman Real Estate.
Create gorgeous workstations by integrating a desk that folds into a bookshelf, or upgrade your laundry space with pull-out drying racks. Use every inch of real estate to make your home feel like a mansion.
3. Reconfigure the layout
Ready to knock down some walls Chip "Demo Day!" Gaines–style? Your floor plan will thank you.
"The best and most economical solution can be reconfiguring the existing layout of the home," Cianciulli says.
Perhaps your home would feel larger if you transformed your rarely used dining room into a master bedroom. Or maybe the living room is awkwardly placed, interrupting the home's flow.
"Even if each day has you frantically searching for ways to streamline and simplify, each home has the potential to be efficient with the right design," says Larry Greene, the president of design and remodeling company Case Indy.
But this isn't a DIY job: Hire a professional architect or remodeling company to creatively reconfigure your space. Consider going with a local company that has worked with similar homes.
"They'll be able to show you how remodelers have dealt with similar design problems and provide solutions that are specific to the challenges of your local area," Greene says.
4. Swap out your furniture
Maybe you used to have an oversize living room—so you bought a huge sectional. Now it's crammed into your current home's much-smaller TV room, making the entire floor plan feel cramped.
It's time to ditch old furniture that doesn't suit your space and integrate sleek, smaller pieces.
A few years ago, Hillman helped a buyer purchase a small city apartment. Then came buyer's remorse. Hillman stepped in to help her redesign, choosing minimalist, transformative furniture.
Soon, "she was happy about her hip, trendy, spacious small home," he says. "She's now addicted to optimizing and organizing her home with creative furniture concepts."
In addition to ditching bulky items, choose furniture that has storage or does double duty, like this industrial pop-up coffee table ($599) from West Elm.
5. Expand your outdoor space
A versatile outdoor living area "immediately expands your living room outward, making it a fun place to entertain and relax with guests," Greene says.
If you're located in a warm climate—or even one that enjoys a decently long summer—create unique, cozy dining and entertaining spaces outside. Need inspiration? Lifestyle blog A Beautiful Mess' comfortable outdoor living room is serious backyard goals.
If you live in a cold climate, you don't have to sacrifice outdoor living, either. Transform a rarely used porch into a sunroom and enjoy natural light all year long.
6. Sell your home
OK, fine: This isn't really salvaging the situation. But any discussion including the words "I hate my house" deserves at least a quick peek at this last-ditch option. If you're suddenly expecting triplets, a two-bedroom bungalow very well might strain your sanity.
If you're truly down in the dumps, consult with your real estate agent. This is "the obvious solution," Cianciulli says, but also a major commitment.
Consider exhausting all the options above before you settle on selling, and prepare to make difficult sacrifices. If you picked your too-small space because it fit your budget and you loved the surrounding neighborhood, don't expect to find a larger home nearby unless you're willing to pony up significantly more cash.
By: Jamie Wiebe via realtor.com